The John Kricfalusi Interview, Part 2

And now, the conclusion of our exclusive John Kricfalusi interview. The first part was posted HERE last week. Before we begin, be sure to SIGN THIS PETITION which will be sent to Spike TV asking them to put these episodes on the air sooner than later. LA residents, don’t forget the two-evening John K. tribute at the Egytpian Theatre on Sept. 7 and 8. And for images, clips and info about these new episodes, check out THIS PAGE.

Cartoon Brew: You were saying that these new cartoons are of a much higher artistic quality than the original REN & STIMPY episodes. Would it be safe to say that a big reason for this is because you’re a much better artist today than you were ten years ago and your improvement affects everybody else working on the show?

John Kricfalusi: That’s a definite. I worked with a lot of newer artists on the show. There were some of the artists from the classic period – Eddie Fitzgerald, Jim Smith and Vincent Waller – and they’re always great, but we started a lot of new kids. I mean, all artists get better with age. The more you draw, the better you’re going to get. I’m not bragging, but I’ve been studying and drawing a lot since then. So that raises the standards of the whole studio. In the same sense, in the early-1930s, the standards were rubber hose. By the late 1930s, the standards were much more realistic drawings and by the ’40s, there were even more difficult drawings. So as the standards were raised, not only did the veterans get better, but new people coming into the business had more of a challenge than they did ten years earlier because they had to achieve a higher level of drawing.

One problem I face now is a lot of people who come into the studio have only one influence and that’s Spumco. That’s a bad thing. I have to untrain them from what they think is the Spumco style. I have to explain to them that the Spumco style is a combination of me and Jim Smith, Bob Camp, Lynne Naylor and Vincent Waller and all of us have a wide variety of influences. So I say to people, “Go back and look at our influences,” which Luke [Cormican], Katie [Rice], Nick [Cross] and all these people do. They go to Shane Glines’ site and they see what people can really draw. They see all these great artists on Shane’s site. Now their standards are higher and they no longer draw just like Spumco or what they think is Spumco.

In general though, it seems a lot of younger artists today aren’t as well versed in the fundmentals of drawing as in the Golden Age of animation.

You meet young artists now and try to teach them something and they say, “I could do it that way if I wanted to, but this is my style. I draw club feet because it’s my style.” Unfortunately, schools are really bad now. Schools are not only bad in reading, writing and arithmetic, they’re worse in cultural aspects, like in music and art. They don’t teach you anything anymore. I know this from twenty years of experience hiring artists out of the schools. They get worse every year. They’re absolutely ridiculously retarded now. They don’t teach you anything and the few things that they try to teach you are completely wrong. They don’t teach you construction, line of action, nothing.

Illustration from the late-1900s up through the middle of the 20th century was absolutely amazing. In general, American culture was at its highest skill wise in every aspect of human life in the 1940s. It’s all been downhill since then. You just open an old magazine from the 1930s and ’40s and look at the illustrations in it. There’s nobody alive that could touch the way they could draw back then. In old movies, the cinematography is a thousand times better than anything today. Writing, a thousand times better. The standards in the 1940s were extremely high in all aspects of American culture. And they had schools that were like boot camp. They made you learn things. You couldn’t walk into a school and say, “Well, it’s my style to draw badly.” You wouldn’t get into the school. You’d have to be pretty damn good before you came to the school and then once you get there, they were extremely strict about your learning every technical aspect of art. Not only the obvious things like life drawing, anatomy, perspective, but elusive hard to teach concepts like composition and color theory. You buy any book on color theory today and it’s just complete poppy cock. Everybody comes out of school painting pink, purple and green. The whole damn cartoon industry has pink purple and green on their mind.

Those are the colors of INVADER ZIM –
Most cartoons are those colors. They have been for 35 years. Until REN AND STIMPY made that change. REN AND STIMPY changed it, Genndy Tartakovsky perfected it. And then there’s been some shows that have followed Genndy’s lead, like TIME SQUAD, which have absolutely beautiful color. But here’s an interesting theory. The main difference between cartoonists and illustrators, and this isn’t going to apply in every case, but in general cartoonists are untrained artists, while illustrators are more trained. But because the standards were so high in illustration and fine art in the early to mid-20th century, that even the cartoonists and animators who were mostly self-taught, looked up much higher than you have to look today. If you’re a kid wanting to be a cartoonist today, and you’re looking at FAMILY GUY, you don’t have to aim very high. You can draw FAMILY GUY when you’re ten years old. You don’t have to get any better than that to become a professional cartoonist. The standards are extremely low. Same as in illustration. Not very many people can draw who are illustrators today, compared to the early-20th century.

So would you say that training the artists on this show was easier or harder than the first time around?

It was harder this time. I’m trying to figure out why it was harder. I think maybe because when we first formed Spumco, there was a fairly large group of us that had worked together before. One of the big problems this time is that we were doing it in two countries. Even though I’d worked very closely with Jim, Eddie and Vincent before, they were in LA while I was in Canada. We didn’t really work that closely together. And I had to jump back and forth between LA and Canada training two crews of young people. So I don’t know if I can really answer that question because there were other factors involved in that. I think that we probably have some stars that came along this time like Katie, Luke, Kristy Gordon and Helder Mendonca. They’re just naturals and I don’t think we had as many of those in the younger group at the original Spumco.

Does Nick Cross fall into that group as well?

Nick was the fastest learner I’ve ever met in my life. He was unbelievable. I hope he doesn’t get mad at me, but when he came to the studio he had a very generic style. It was the generic Canadian style which is different from the generic American style. Nick was drawing wonky backgrounds and really generic characters. Kristy Gordon, who did background design on RIPPING FRIENDS, was always plugging Nick and I was like, “Yeah, yeah, you’ve got to say that about your boyfriend.”

So anyway, we were starting the show and I needed somebody up here to do storyboards. I hadn’t worked with any board artists in Ottawa so I had to try somebody. I said, “Alright, I’ll give Nick a week and see how he does.” I acted out a scene from “Life Sucks” [an unproduced episode] and he went off and storyboarded it. He brought it back the next day and it was super-generic. Everything was symmetrical and all the shapes were even. Stimpy was completely created out of ovals. Two oval eyes, oval pupils that were the exact same shape as the eyes, each eye is the exact same shape and size, standing next to each other on the same angle, the nose is the same shape as the eye, the body is the same shape as the eye.

So I sat down with great patience and explained assymetry and design to him. He may have already known this stuff that I told him, but I explained to him that to make something look real and alive, nothing can be symmetrical because nothing in real life is symmetrical. You have to make it look organic and give it appeal and design. Those are all difficult concepts and even if you start to grasp them intellectually, that doesn’t mean you can put them into practice right away. You have to train your hand and mind to follow this stuff and that usually takes a long long time. I’ve worked with artists who’ve never been able to grasp assymetrical drawing and design at all. I explained all this to Nick not expecting that it was going to sink in, and even if it did, it would probably be a few years. He came back wih the same storyboard, redid it like in two days or something, and it was beautiful! He applied every single concept I gave him; I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time I’ve ever seen that happen. I’ve never seen any human absorb information and concepts so fast and instantly put them into practice.

Let’s talk a bit more about the visual aspects of the show. How would you say that the show has evolved stylistically since the original episodes?

The ‘look’ of the show is the sum total of the artists’ styles and my stage in development. Technically, the drawings in the new episodes are much more advanced over the old series. The acting is better than it ever was. All artists have their own styles and my studio is one of the very few that allow the artists to use elements of their styles in the cartoons. We don’t trace model sheets here, so whoever is working on the shows is going to influence the ‘look’. If you notice, the ‘look’ changes from episode to episode and sequence to sequence as it always did. The BG styling is not as abstract in the Spike episodes as the Nickelodeon episodes.

In the original series, I influenced the BG style by not being able to draw perspective. Bill Wray and the BG artists developed cool graphic painting styles to make my bad backgrounds look like they were that way on purpose. When Bill painted Jim Smith’s excellent background drawings, then the result was solid, stylish and strong as in “Robin Hoek.” That look was partially inspired by N.C. Wyeth and didn’t have that ‘retro’ look people associate with REN AND STIMPY. In the new series, Nick Cross and Helder Mendonca drew very stylish (but not too stylized) backgrounds, and Kristy Gordon painted many of the backgrounds. Her style is softer and more lush than the graphic styles of the first season episodes and the combination of her style and Nick’s and Helder’s styles created some new ‘looks’ for REN & STIMPY. Jay Li painted some cartoons and scenes in his style also. He painted a magnificent bare girl’s ass in “Naked Beach Frenzy.” It’s so convincing in every detail. You can tell this fine artist researched his subject very carefully. Next season we all want to try some new ‘graphic’ looks again.

Assuming you get another season, in addition to greater stylization, what else would you do differently from these recent episodes?

I think I want to go and do some simpler, lighter, shorter and more cartoony stories next time. No more poo jokes! I’m actually thinking of making a cartoon specifically for Mike Barrier and then one for my Dad according to their specific tastes and phobias, rather than mine. I definitely want to bring back the bumpers and short bits like the original series. We wrote a bunch for the first season, like “My Little Ass,” “Powdered Toast Rolling Tobacco,” and “Log For Moms,” but didn’t have time to make them. I love to experiment and don’t like to stay in one mode for too long. Oh yeah, I want to do some musical stuff!

I’m curious to find out a bit more about your character creation process. I’m going to throw out the names of some of the more memorable characters from these new episodes and maybe you could talk about how they came to be.

Sure. Though I find it very hard to just sit down and create an idea or especially a new character on command. Usually my characters evolve by accident out of some story context, to fill a need in the story. The only character I ever remember actually creating in a flash of inspiration was George Liquor. God planted that in my head in an instant; I knew everything about the character – his look, his personality, his stories, everything. That was spooky now that I think about it. He’s really the richest character I have too. I’m amazed there aren’t 365 episodes about him on TV already.

“The Three Things” from “Altruists.” These guys are truly classic. Where did you get the idea for them?

They came about through sheer inevitable logical syllogistic progression. In “Altruists” Stimpy needed to wear a sexy duck costume to lure an angry duck away from protecting a house.
Therefore Stimpy had to have a duckbill taped to his nose.
Therefore the duck had to try to kiss the duckbill.
Therefore by sheer necessity I knew I had to make the duckbill speak, in a sexy voice.
Therefore the duck had no choice but to make out with the Stimpy/sexy duck.
When you make out it leads to an inevitable result – offspring. Ducks lay eggs, therefore a cat in a duck suit must also lay eggs. Eggs hatch. When a duck and a cat have a baby, the baby must be half cat (on top) and half duck (on bottom). The second baby must be the reverse, of course: duck on top, cat on bottom. They naturally have to think each other is weird looking.

And by the comedy law of 3′s there must be a 3rd topper. Where do you go now that we have used both possibilities? Left side-cat, right side-duck. Obviously. For easy comparison and contemplation we need to line all three up next to each other. They need a Terrytoons title card to show off their shiniest assets. Terrytoons once tried a short series of cartoons that starred three very weird-looking indefinable animal characters. They had a beautiful shiny title card advertising their entertainment attributes. I christened them “The Three Things” because I didn’t know what they were. Therefore a cat in a sexy duck costume leads logically, inevitably, step-by-step, to a spin-off series from REN & STIMPY called “The Three Things”…and a very shiny title card.

Wow! OK, how about “Shampoo Master Stimpy” from “Naked Beach Frenzy”?

Hmmm…more sort of logical progression from a story need. Ren and Stimpy are bathroom attendants in the girls’ shower room at the beach. The first dirty gag has Ren lathering up soap on a girl’s breasts. He thinks he has the best job in the world and is quite professional about it, so now it’s Stimpy’s turn to top him. We originally had him shampooing the other girl’s hair, but I thought, well that’s not as good a job or as entertaining as washing a girl’s breasts, is it? Steve Stefanelli was storyboarding this sequence and he brought me this problem. It seemed anti-climactic. What to do? Then came inspiration: “SHAMPOO MASTER!!!,” I blurted. He said “What?” thinking I had lost my mind. And I did for that ecstatic moment. I explained that Stimpy had to be better than a bathroom attendant to top Ren, so he had to be a super-hero that could dispense shampoo from his utility nozzle. Steve then drew the nozzle and added this strange ball in the middle of the tube, which when you twist it, the nozzle squirts the goo all over the girl’s head. There you have it. Of course now we have to do a whole cartoon about Shampoo Master.

And the hairy lifeguard from the same cartoon?

Once we decided to do a beach picture I knew I had to use a bunch of old beach gags we had storyboarded for the TNN bumpers promoting BAYWATCH. The bumpers starred a cat and a duck who spy on sexy girls at the beach, while this huge hairy David Hasselhoff-like lifeguard keeps beating on them to protect the sanctity of all the unspoiled maidens. I loved this character so much; I kept trying to find places to use him. “Naked Beach Frenzy” afforded me the opportunity to debut this bright new Hollywood cartoon star.

BISPOP GALLERY

biskup.jpgI’ve alway’s enjoyed the Mary Blair inspired paintings and animation art of Tim Biskup (Time Squad). Now Tim’s opening a physical store in Pasadena to sell his original artwork, prints, toys and books. He’s also having a grand opening party on Saturday September 18th from 6pm to 9pm, and we are all invited!The BISPOP GALLERY is located inside Johnson Motors Inc. at 36 West Colorado Blvd., #7 Mills Place Alley in Pasadena. For more information check Tim’s website or Flopdoodle.com

VARIETY REVIEWS “PRIDE”

DAILY VARIETY posted its mixed review of Dreamworks’ FATHER OF THE PRIDE today. Quote:

The show remains a serious gamble with doubtful prospects, as its sporadically tawdry tone clearly isn’t meant for kids, and questions linger about how many adults will be motivated to tune in a CGI series on their own, the popularity of “Shrek” and its sequel notwithstanding.

You can read the whole review here.

LINUS THE LIONHEARTED

linus1.jpgOne of the cleverest Saturday morning cartoons ever produced may never be seen again. LINUS THE LIONHEARTED (1964), produced by Ed Graham Productions for General Foods, lives on in bootleg videos and old comic books. But it was removed from all television broadcasts when the show came under fire by the FCC because it was perceived as a half hour commercial for Post cereals. Which, I guess, in some ways it was. It’s too bad a show with a voice cast which included Carl Reiner, Ruth Buzzi, Sheldon Leonard (as Linus), Jonathan Winters, Stiller & Meara, and other notable comedians — along with a troupe of appealing characters (of which, only Sugar Bear still remains active in TV spots for Post Golden Crisp) — is completely forgotten today. Luckily Scott Shaw has posted a tribute to Linus and the Crispy Critters over at his Oddball Comics website this week, with more information on the subject – and LINUS THE LIONHEARTED #1 from Gold Key Comics – than you thought humanly possible.

VAN BEUREN’S TOM & JERRY

aka Tom & JerryMark Kausler and I will present a screening of rare Van Bueren TOM & JERRY cartoons next month at the AFI, as part of our on-going Asifa-Hollywood screening series, held the last Saturday of each month. For those who came in late, these are NOT the Hanna Barbera cat & mouse cartoons (although Joe Barbera DID work at Van Bueren around this time), these are the early 1930s pre-code, funky, black & white “Mutt & Jeff”-like rubber hose style duo in surreal cartoons which were re-titled “Dick & Larry” in the 1950s. Mark your calender and join us – it’s gonna be fun!Saturday September 25th, 2004 at 3:00pm. The American Film Institute – Ted Ashley Screening Room, 2021 N. Western Ave., Hollywood, California. ASIFA MEMBERS admitted FREE, Non-Members: $10.00

LAST CHANCE: POPEYE MEETS SINDBAD

popeyeOkay, here’s your last two chances! If you live in L.A. (or plan to visit in the next two weeks) you have TWO opportunities to see the 35mm restored, pristine print (with original Paramount titles) of POPEYE MEETS SINDBAD, the Fleischer Oscar nominated two-reeler.Both screenings are at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The first is on Monday (Labor Day) September 6th at exactly 1:35pm. This screening is part of the marathon CINECON programming that weekend (a marathon of rare, restored classic movies that are never run anywhere else and not on dvd, most of the films shown at Cinecon are not on TV or have never been released on video). A complete schedule of Cinecon programming is here. The only other cartoons they are running this year are Mark Kausler’s IT’S THE CAT (Thursday September 2nd at 6:30pm) and a restored 35mm print of SCRAPPY’S TELEVISION (Friday September 3rd at 2:25pm).
Cinecon is where I met my wife in 2001, and proposed to her there in 2002. Needless to say, Marea and I will be there all weekend.POPEYE MEETS SINDBAD will also screen publicly two days later (September 8th at 8:00pm) in the same theatre as part of John Kricfalusi’s program of Classic Cartoon influences. This program will feature rare 35mm prints of Lantz, Terry (Tyer), Fleischer and Warner (Clampett & Jones) cartoons. I’ll post a complete list of cartoons screening that night as we get closer.

The John Kricfalusi Interview, Part 1

An interesting thought occured to me as I was reading this intense exchange of cartoon ideologies between John Kricfalusi and author/historian Michael Barrier, and that’s regardless of whether you agree with John’s views, Mike’s views, or perhaps even some of what they both have to say, it’s unlikely that Mike could be having this conversation with any other creator of an animated TV series. It’s hardly a secret that John has firmly entrenched opinions about what makes for a good cartoon, but these ideas are rooted in years of diligent study and analysis of the art form. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen who’s dissected (with mathematical precision) the layout compositions from UPA’s GERALD MCBOING BOING and broken down the story structures of Chuck Jones’ WB shorts, and his cartoons are a reflection and outgrowth of this formidable study of the craft. In John’s cartoons, whether the content is to one’s taste or not, the execution and artistry of his films is undeniable; the cartoons are complex and layered in such a way that they almost demand multiple viewings to fully appreciate the thought and nuance that went into their making.

The new REN & STIMPY episodes – NAKED BEACH FRENZY, ALTRUISTS and STIMPY’S PREGNANT – are no exception to the above, and they represent new heights in the continually evolving art of John Kricfalusi. While I’m sure it’s known to a good many readers of this site, now would be an appropriate time to disclose that I worked on these episodes. Admittedly though, at the time of production, there was little thought on my part that the resulting films would turn out to be such an utterly unique viewing experience. One of the show’s layout artists Luke Cormican recently put it best: “A John K. cartoon is no longer a short bit of crazy fun…. it’s now an epic experience that pushes the boundaries of cartooning further than they’ve been pushed before in these modern times.”

These new cartoons are at turns bust-a-gut funny, fervidly melodramatic, unabashedly offensive, and always brimming with vitality and creativity. They are also of a consistently higher quality than the first batch of REN & STIMPY: ADULT PARTY CARTOON episodes, though REN SEEKS HELP from the earlier bunch is no slouch itself. The rising quality is to be expected considering that when production began, John had to train two relatively green crews – one in Los Angeles and another in Ottawa – to meet his exacting artistic demands. At the moment, Spike TV has not commissioned further episodes beyond the original order of six half-hours, meaning that the majority of the artists John had patiently trained for the past few years have been forced to disband and find cartoon employ elsewhere. To borrow another comment from the quotable Cormican, he says, “It’s really a crime that we were cut off right after we had gone through the rough training ground that this season was. It’s kind of like if someone burned down Termite Terrace in 1939.”

While there’s no additional episodes planned, there’s still the issue of these three new episodes which have been produced and remain unseen. Originally expected to debut August 20th on Spike TV, the date came to pass with nary a sight of the cat-and-dog duo. Spike has yet to announce another airdate, though Los Angeles residents fortunately have only to wait until Tuesday September 7. That’s when the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood will present a SCREENING of the new cartoons to be introduced by John Kricfalusi in person.

Below you’ll find the first part of a chat I recently had with John about the new episodes. The second part of our interview will be posted here on Tuesday, August 31. To see clips and images from the new episodes, visit the ADULT PARTY CARTOON website.

Cartoon Brew: A number of the new Ren & Stimpy cartoons run over half an hour. When you initially wrote the stories, were you planning on making them this long or is this just how the stories evolved?

John Kricfalusi: No they weren’t planned before hand at all. I envy novelists because they just write a story with a beginning, middle and end, and when they run out of things to say about the story, it’s over. In TV animation, you’re constricted by the arbitrary length of time. Also a lot of the original Ren and Stimpy’s were half hours. The very first one was a half hour – STIMPY’S BIG DAY. SVEN HOEK and SON OF STIMPY were also both half-hours. I was always struggling with that, even in the first season. No matter what scene we come up with, I always think up a million variations and ways to take the gag further and explore each gag. For example, ALTRUISTS is the extreme example of that. We set out to make a completely gag cartoon. It does have a plot, that Ren and Stimpy are altruists and they want to help a hot lady in distress. But it turns out what they have to do is build a house. We actually had a hell of a lot more scenes, with some even storyboarded for that cartoon, and we ran out of time to produce it. A few of the cartoons are like that. STIMPY’S PREGNANT has a lot more scenes written and we just didn’t have the time to produce them.

Despite their length though, the cartoons never drag or feel padded out. Do you have any methods when it comes to structuring cartoons so that gag scenes which aren’t plot heavy are balanced with the story scenes that drive the narrative forward? Or is it simply just a matter of making sure everything is funny?

No, there’s no general theory about it. I just try to make it funny. And I bore easy so I don’t want to repeat the same type of thing over and over again. I’m not saying that I don’t commit that sin sometimes and I do. Like there were a lot of poo jokes this year which kind of got out of hand. I would forget the previous cartoon; ‘Oh, we just did a poo joke in the last one.’ It was my poo phase. But I had my farts and booger phase too during the first couple of seasons and everyone loved it. I’m over the poo now. In the meantime there’s eight million other types of jokes in each cartoon.

On STIMPY’S PREGNANT, one of the sequences I enjoyed the most was Stimpy preparing the food, but I heard that you didn’t like that particular sequence –

No, I didn’t like it at all.

– which is surprising though because a lot of people who’ve seen the cartoon think that’s a really funny bit. Which scenes then do you think work well in STIMPY’S PREGNANT?

Well it’s probably a good thing I don’t censor myself. Sometimes I’ll leave things in that I don’t think are working and other people tell me it’s their favorite scene in the picture. To me, the very best scenes are in the very beginning when Stimpy is trying to bring himself to tell Ren that he’s knocked up. And then once Ren freaks out, Stimpy has to calm him down and get him to go along with it. That whole sequence to me is the best acted thing we’ve ever done and I was really proud of that. There’s just tons of expressions and drawings in every scene of that. There’s more drawings in STIMPY’S PREGNANT than any cartoon we’ve ever done. 40,000 cels, and at least half of them are damn keys. It’s like an old Rod Scribner scene. When you freeze-frame it, there’s no inbetweens.

That’s definitely one of the things that I noticed is that the new cartoons are less pose-to-pose than the original series. But to play devil’s advocate, one could argue that it’s a waste of time to put in so many key drawings and expressions in a cartoon when they’re going by so quickly. Projected at regular speed, the audience doesn’t see most of them, so what is the ultimate purpose of putting in so many drawings?

Well, when you watch a gripping actor in live action, a very subtle actor such as Peter Lorre or Kirk Douglas or Robert Ryan, you can’t see every expression. They don’t act pose-to-pose; no actor goes pose-to-pose. You see the change in the thought process from one expression to another and there’s a lot of things happening in between. The more subtle and rich that it is, the more the audience believes it and the more real it seems. So in this sequence, yeah you’re not going to see every single drawing as you’re watching in real time, but it’s way more gripping storywise. That’s the best part of that whole cartoon; it’s like a melodramatic movie. It’s all about the acting; the more changes that you can have between the key expressions and emotions, the more realistic transitions you have.

I’m sure you felt that. It was really tense at times, when Stimpy was thinking, “How am I going to tell Ren that I’m going to have his kid?” It was almost not funny because it was so real. I wanted people to feel that because a lot of parents probably go through something similar. Obviously we exaggerated it and made it more severe, but I’m sure there’s a lot of accidents happening out there in real life. And there’s got to be that moment when the wife has to tell the husband and she thinks she’s going to get in trouble for it. I’m sure a lot of people will identify with that.

I think you just hit on a really interesting point. In some of the episodes like REN SEEKS HELP and STIMPY’S PREGNANT, there were moments where I thought the cartoon was disturbing. It wasn’t the humor, but the animation itself felt disturbing. Perhaps that’s because our eyes are not used to seeing so many expressive, intense drawings in animation.

Well I love extremes in different mediums. The extreme of a cartoon is surrealism, that cartoons can do anything. A character can explode, can fly into pieces and come back together, can have their heads blown off, squash into a pancake, turn into an erection, I love all that stuff. But that’s not all I love. To me, if I make the character so real, so believable, and then do wild stuff with it, it puts you in a whole other world. It makes the weird stuff even more believable. Like in STIMPY’S PREGNANT the whole opening, after the puke stuff’s over, turns into this realistic drama. Then when all the intensity is released and Ren accepts that he’s going to have the kid, it’s all happy and light-hearted. All the birds and squirrels show up, and then it goes right into gags. So it’s about contrast. I like to do a lot of different mood and feelings, it’s not just a string of gags. It certainly isn’t a string of one-liners. There’s all kind of things. There’s acting, slapstick gags, surreal gags, verbal gags, the way the characters talk.

Also I’m not merely influenced by animation. If I was, I probably would have much shallower cartoons. I would draw off less experience and information, but I love movies and old sitcoms. I mean, THE HONEYMOONERS is a great example. When you watch Jackie Gleason, he’s completely gripping throughout the show. Even if it’s a Norton scene and Norton’s doing a lot of funny stuff, you could just watch Ralph’s reactions and they’re hilarious, subtle and amazing. He’s doing all this stuff that builds tension and real emotion in the scene. Cartoons don’t generally do that. The closest ever were Bob Clampett’s cartoons. They did it, but not to the extent of the live-action movies and the classic sitcoms of the ’50s and ’60s.

Can you point to any specific examples of where you were influenced by a live-action actor or actress in these new episodes or was it just general inspiration?

I don’t think I used anything specific this time around. I did during the original seasons because I was learning to act with my pencil and so I had to draw upon things that I knew really well. When you learn something, you learn by imitation first but I think I’ve gotten past that stage where now I can just feel things from my own life experience and I just act them out in the mirror. Sometimes I don’t even need a mirror. You’ve seen me do it, right? Have you been in my office where people try to come in and talk to me while I’m drawing a scene. You see me in all sorts of contorted poses.

Right. You look very focused.

Sometimes if I have a really tricky expression, I’ll use a mirror. But a lot of times, I can feel it in my heart and I know what it looks like. I’ll just draw it. But I couldn’t do that when we first started Ren and Stimpy. There’s a lot of scenes in the original Ren & Stimpy’s that we just stole out of old movies.

(To be continued…)

MEET FRED LADD

laddI’m hosting an Asifa-Hollywood screening / Q&A with Fred Ladd this Saturday, August 28th at the AFI. Fred has had an incredible career as an animation producer (PINOCCHIO IN OUTER SPACE, THE BIG WORLD OF LITTLE ADAM, etc.), U.S. anime pioneer (ASTRO BOY, KIMBA, GIGANTOR, SAILOR MOON) and as a notorious cartoon colorizer. He’s also a nice guy with a healthy sense of humor, and a lot of stories to tell. We will be showing clips from much of his work and we will also celebrate Gigantor’s anniversary with a surprise. Join us at 3pm on the American Film Institute campus, in the Ted Ashley/Warner Bros. Screening Room, 2021 N. Western Ave. in Hollywood, CA. Asifa Members admitted FREE, Non-Members pay $10.00

More on S&P

The post I made last weekend about Standards & Practices has drawn a couple responses worth pointing out. Writer/producer Mark Evanier adds perspective to the discussion and compares his experiences with S&P in live-action versus animation. He also points out historically that some TV producers like Bill Hanna have simply found it easier to appease S&P rather than fight against them. Of course, during the downtrodden TV animation scene of the Eighties, Hanna’s lack of vigor in defending his cartoons is somewhat understandable. As H-B was producing hundreds of forgettable hours of animation every TV season, I’m sure the least of Hanna’s worries was that the artistic vision of THE GARY COLEMAN SHOW and MONCHICHIS was being compromised by S&P notes. Then again, that indifference is (in some part) responsible for allowing S&P to thrive and become an unnecessarily difficult hurdle for today’s creator-driven animated series. Also this thread on Animation Nation continues the list of outlandish revisions that artists have been asked to make on television cartoons.

NY TIMES on Team America

I haven’t particularly enjoyed anything by Trey Parker and Matt Stone since their short THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS, but that doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to their upcoming puppet feature TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE. This NY TIMES article details the painstakingly difficult production of the film, while revealing that the movie’s budget is $32 million dollars and the Chiodo Bros. are creating the puppets for the film. (via Scrubbles.net)

THE PUMPKIN OF NYEFAR

pumpkin1.jpgProducer Todd Polson wrote in with an update on his film, the last animated film with contributions by Maurice Noble, THE PUMPKIN OF NYEFAR:

We are finishing up the film website now… www.pumpkinlove.com There I will include all the details, images, story behind production… etc. At the moment I only have the open page… The links are not yet working. But should be up in the next week or so.I wasn’t’ sure if your readers were interested in how “Pumpkin” came to be… In 1994 Maurice began training a group of young designers at Chuck Jones film productions. A lot of us were working on our own personal short projects, several of them based on ethnic folktales. Maurice thought it would be a great idea if the group of us could develop a series of shorts inspired by stories from around the world. We called this series “Noble Tales”, and we, his trainees, became known as the “Noble Boys” (which also included a few girls).Many of us traveled around the world and developed and together designed several dozen ideas… “The Pumpkin Of Nyefar” was one short idea Maurice and I wrote while visiting Turkey. Our first morning in Istanbul we came downstairs to the dining room… and around the table were 20 belly dancers… and a lot of pumpkin dishes. All the girls of course were smitten by Mr. Nobles charm. Ha ha… I can still see him grinning from ear to ear. Afterwords we talked things over, and decided to write a story about a prince who could marry any beauty in his kingdom… but instead chooses to wait for true love. As fate would have it… The prince finds true love in the form of a pumpkin.While I was supervising a TV show in Thailand, James Wang (Wang film) invited Maurice and I to use his Thai studio to make our short. Maurice underwent surgery so that he could make the flight to Bangkok… unfortunately he died a few weeks later. I came to Thailand a few months later to work on the short myself… But my friends didn’t leave me to do the film alone…
For soon after, my pal Mark Oftedal, came to town for a visit. His short vacation, turned into a several year working holiday, He became so involved with the project, that I just made him pumpkin Co-director. Other friends from America helped out too… June Foray donated her voice to the film, Ben Jones, and Lawrence Marvit both did short stints in Bangkok to help get things going. Sue Kroyer did a lot of inspirational character design… as did Roman Laney. Jules Engel looked over a lot of the early design and color.Aaron Sorenson, Dave Marshall, Dave Thomas, and Mike Polvani all donated time to the project. It was really a great collaboration of friends, Just the way Maurice had dreamed about… doing a short film together… everything donated… just because they wanted to do it.

The film will screen in L.A. later this week for Academy qualification. I look forward to seeing it!

Why Modern Cartoons Suck – Reason #492

It’s easy to make fun of TV animation execs, but it’s even easier to make fun of the twits who work at the networks’ Broadcast Standards & Practices divisions. These low-lifes have done more to ruin TV animation and suck fun and entertainment out of cartoons as anybody else has since the Seventies. Speak to anybody who has worked in TV animation and they’re likely to have countless stories about the inane changes and arbitrary cuts that S&P people like to make. Here’s an ARTICLE that lists a bunch of imbecilic changes for an episode of THE TICK such as “It will not be acceptable for the Four-Legged Man to be seriously injured with ‘two splinted legs … a neck brace and a head bandage.’ He may be prevented from teaching his class due to some minor injury, or for another reason, such as a common cold or flu or car trouble.” More recently, Eddie Mort and Lili Chin mention a ridiculous cut requested on their show MUCHA LUCHA:

“The note we received from Standards and Practices was to replace the Spanish word, pulpo, with its English translation: octopus. Why? Because they thought pulpo sounded like (ahem) a kid-inappropriate word …”

I racked my brain and couldn’t think of any inappropriate word that even remotely sounds like pulpo. Other readers of their blog couldn’t figure it out either so Eddie finally revealed in their comments section that THIS was the offensive word S&P thought it sounded like. Perhaps they should also ban anybody from using the verb “put” on the show from now on. That’s far more likely to be confused with the word than pulpo.

But that’s nothing compared to a change that the creators of Comedy Central’s upcoming animated series DRAWN TOGETHER told audiences about at last month’s San Diego Comic Con. They said that one of the characters in their show said something along the lines of, “Wow, that’s almost as bad as the Holocaust and Slavery.” Now a sensible request from Comedy Central’s S&P might have been that such a comment was out of line and that the creators couldn’t compare a trivial event in their show to two horrible tragedies like the Holocaust and American Slavery. S&P’s note however was that the comparison to Slavery was quite fine, but the Holocaust reference had to be removed because Slavery wasn’t as bad as the Holocaust. Somebody should really compile a book of these gems.

LOONEY TUNES RADIO

what's up docThere’s a website (tobaccodocuments.org) dedicated to information related to the tobacco company litigation of the past several years. Oddly enough, one of the documents on the site is a radio script of the Al Pearce Show from April 11, 1941, with Leon Schlesinger as guest! Since the show had Mel Blanc and Arthur Q. Bryan as regulars, they also presented “the first radio showing of ‘The Wild Hare’”(sic). Check out image scans of the script here.
Thanks to Eric Wilson for the link.

POPEYE BOOK

popeye bookFamed Popeye fanatic Fred Grandinetti has updated and expanded his McFarland book POPEYE: An Illustrated Cultural History into a slightly larger, 337 page revised edition. It’s a true improvement over his previous effort, with more illustrations, more details on each film (all Paramount cartoons, King and Hanna-Barbera TV incarnations are covered), more on the people behind the comic strip, the comic books, the voice actors, the merchandise, the commercials, censored scenes, the Robin Williams feature, the Fried Chicken chain, why the classic cartoons aren’t on video… everything you wanted to know about Popeye but were afraid to ask.popeye soakyMy favorite part of the book is a chart of Popeye heads drawn in the style of each TV animator (now I can tell the difference between Rudy Larriva’s Popeye, Ed Friedman’s Popeye and Harvey Toombs Popeye!). A labor of love by a true Popeye maniac, Grandinetti’s new Popeye volume may not be the last word on Segar’s cartoon creation, but it’s certainly a thorough overview and worth having.

Chris Sanders’ American Dog

The images displayed HERE from LILO & STITCH director Chris Sanders’ next feature project AMERICAN DOG are absolutely mouth-watering. I’m not holding my breath that the final film will look nearly as cool, but it’s one of those instances where I’d be delighted to be proven wrong. Mike Gabriel has ably demonstrated with his Disney short LORENZO that the sort of style suggested in the AMERICAN DOG concept art (with its painterly texturing and lighting, soft edges around the characters and sophisticated color palette) is more than possible for a finished animated production. It’s heartening to know that a Disney feature could potentially look this stellar, and with Chris Sanders at the helm, there’s every reason to be hopeful that it actually might.

CartoonRetro.com

Of the countless millions of websites floating around the Internet, there is only one which I’ve ever felt compelled to pay a monthly subscription fee for and that is Shane Glines’ CartoonRetro.com. After months of eager anticipation, CartoonRetro launched last June and I’m pleased to report that the site is everything I had hoped it would be and much more. CartoonRetro, simply put, is a daily source of visual inspiration and education. Every weekday Shane posts rare high-quality artwork from the greatest cartoonists and illustrators of the 1920s and 1930s. One day it might be the beautiful children’s book illustrations of Vernon Grant, the following day a vintage magazine piece about the art of caricature by William Auerbach Levy, and the next a collection of ESQUIRE spot illustrations by Roy Nelson. Many of the artists featured on the site straddle the border of obscurity and complete anonymity which is completely at odds with the remarkable quality of their artistry. Shane has undertaken the difficult task of rescuing the work of these artists from musty books, tattered magazines and deteriorating microfilm, and painstakingly restoring the art to its full brilliance. The same care that is put into the restoration is also afforded to the presentation. Shane doesn’t haphazardly dump a collection of images onto the site, but presents it with thoughtfulnesss and context. By posting a handful of drawings from an artist on any given day, he allows the viewer to truly appreciate, understand and savor the work. Daily updates are often supported with biographical info about the artists and comments about the graphic qualities of the drawings which adds further value to the artwork.

The ultimate purpose of CartoonRetro is not only to build a library of classic cartoons, but for viewers to learn from the artwork that is posted and to apply the lessons to their own projects. To that end, CartoonRetro also features comic and animation projects that Shane and other artists like Katie Rice, Luke Cormican and Fred Osmond are developing exclusively for the site. Each of these artists provides extensive commentary about the development process of their cartoons and specific explanations of how they are being influenced by the works of earlier cartoonists.

CartoonRetro while still in its infancy has already proven to be an invaluable resource. Without any reservations, I can say that it belongs in the bookmarks of every animation artist, illustrator and designer. The spare, yet infinitely complex and creative, beauty of the artwork on CartoonRetro is a refreshing change of pace from the mathematical sterility of today’s CG artistry and serves as a daily reminder of what attracted me to cartoons and drawing in the first place. Perhaps the best news for myself and other subscribers is that Shane has committed himself fully to the site and turned CartoonRetro.com into his full-time job and sole source of income. With the type of vision and dedication that he has towards the art of cartoons, I am confident that CartoonRetro will be on the scene for many years to come, and I’ll be along for the ride every step of the way.

For a full listing of the site’s features, see the Cartoon Retro Tour or jump straight to the Subscription Page.

A Conference About (Character) Design

PICTOPLASMA: The 1st Conference on Contemporary Character Design and Art will take place in Berlin, Germany from October 28-30, 2004. The idea for the conference is intriguing and the website lists an impressive line-up of speakers, but the event also exemplifies a key problem of contemporary character design. A common trait that runs through a startling majority of the sample artwork posted on the conference site is the noticeable absence of personality in the designs. Too many artists today seem overly focused on discovering a graphic solution to characters, in other words the “design” aspect of the equation, while completely neglecting the “character” portion which dictates that the graphics should communicate personality and emotion. The end product is designs that succeed as iconic imagery, perfectly suitable for being printed onto T-shirts and adapted into toys, but unsuccessful as character designs that are meant to engage and entertain audiences.

The very best character designs in animation and comics – to name a few, Grim Natwick’s design of Betty Boop, Elzie Segar’s Popeye, John Hubley’s Mr. Magoo, Marc Davis’ Cruella de Vil and Ed Benedict’s conception of Fred Flintstone – equally consider both aesthetics and personality and successfully integrate them into a whole, resulting in dynamic combinations of shapes that emote. It is doubtful that this topic will be addressed in much detail at the upcoming event, but the very fact that there’s enough interest in character design to generate an entire conference devoted to the subject is a hopeful sign for the future.
(Thanks to Raiinboy for the link)

Little bit of vip

I’m a little late in mentioning issue #6 of COMIC ART magazine, but I just picked it up over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed the piece on Virgil “VIP” Partch, who is one of my all-time favorite cartoonists (the other fave being Ronald Searle). Joel Goldstein’s article is well researched and offers many previously unknown biographical details about Partch, as well as insights into his complex personality. The article focuses only on VIP’s work through the 1940s and while there is still much to be written about Virgil Partch, this article serves as a fine introduction to his work.

Now for a couple completely random notes related to Partch. In a recent email, Oscar Grillo mentioned a Disney short which sounds mighty entertaining. Here’s part of his note: “I ‘found’ on the Internet an exquisite Donald Duck short, DUCK PIMPLES. It’s an absolute beauty, written by Virgil Partch (VIP) and animated by Milt Kahl. It is a real tour de force of beautiful animation and weird ideas.” This is incidentally Partch’s only writing credit at Disney, which he shares with buddy Dick Shaw. When the short was released in 1945, he had long departed Disney and was already a successful magazine cartoonist. Next is an instance of a cartoon discussion occuring in a most unlikely place. My dentist, a middle-aged Orange County Republican, the type of person who has a photo of George W. framed in his office, redeemed himself on my last visit by telling me that his parents had been drinking buddies with the Partch’s and Shaw’s in the Fifties. He told tales of how Partch and Shaw formed their own club where they’d preside over wacky events like ‘sailing a boat’ to Las Vegas and ‘driving a car’ to Catalina Island. Next time I go in to have my teeth cleaned, I’ll try to press him for more Partch-related trivia.